UM Commencement: Student Address

Alex Marston: "I encourage us to embrace change."
Word cloud analysis of Alex Marston's commencement address. Image links to higher resolution file. Analysis done at

Word cloud analysis of Alex Marston's commencement address. Image links to higher resolution file. Analysis done at

Speaking to his fellow graduates at the University of Michigan’s spring commencement ceremony on May 1, 2010, senior Alex Marston’s brief remarks gave a quick tour through some touchstones of student culture.

That tour ranged from food, to football, to academics. Marston’s focus was change – an idea that his fellow commencement speaker, President Barack Obama, had made the centerpiece of his successful 2008 campaign.

The Chronicle transcribed and annotated the address as delivered.

Thank you, Dean McDonald. President Obama, distinguished guests, faculty, friends, family, and fellow graduates. [audience cheers]

[Note: Marston was introduced by Terry McDonald, dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. ]

Today, we graduates are forced to change, to move forward in a new direction. But change is a funny thing. We desire change, but we fear it. We say things like, “I just want to make a difference in the world.” Yet we grow uneasy when the world around us changes. We invent new technologies and then we worry that they will ruin our values and our traditions. We want instant gratification, without hard work or sacrifice. President Obama was elected on his promise of “change we can believe in.” But after he took office he found many resistances to change. [audience laughter and applause]

[Note: The laughter can be attributed to the difficult first 16 months Obama has experienced in office.]

As a nation, we have found that changes can bring us together, but they can also tear us apart. We can see our ambivalence in that change here on campus as well. After the horror of a certain football game played here a few years ago, many were thrilled when Michigan hired a coach who would bring a new energy and style of football to our school. But after two seasons, change has been slow [audience laughter] and full of growing pains. [more audience laughter] Today, we must re-examine our views toward change. [audience laughter] We must embrace change and realize that with every change comes new opportunity.

[Note: Reference to the "horror of a certain football game" is to the Sept. 1, 2007 defeat of UM by Appalachian State by a score of 34-32.]

While most of us will no longer be able to spend our Fridays at Charley’s [audience cheers] and our Sundays at the UGLi, we will create new traditions and find new goals to achieve. With what we have attained at the University of Michigan, we will become the teachers, doctors, lawyers, and engineers who will shape the future of our country. Of course, there are some changes that cannot be spun in a positive light. After all, there is no deli in the world that can match the pastrami at Zingerman’s. And no burger whose grease is quite as delectable as the grease of a Blimpy burger.

[Note: Of the references, three are eateries, while the fourth is campus vernacular for the undergraduate library: Good Time Charley's, Zingerman's Deli, Blimpy Burger, UGLi]

But still we must embrace change and follow the lead of Michigan graduates who have changed the world. Arthur Miller, who in 1949 redefined American theater with his play, “Death of a Salesman.” Margaret Brewer, who in 1978 became the first woman to achieve the rank of general in the United States Marine Corps. And Gerald Ford, who after being named the most valuable player on the 1934 Michigan football team, went on to become the leader of the free world. So as we graduate today, I encourage us to embrace change and realize that we can make a difference. We can join the ranks of over 400,000 living Michigan alumni. And when we’ve reached our goals, we can look back on our time together at Michigan and be grateful to the university that has provided us with the tools and the will to make the world a better place.

Go Blue!